We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The lump of labour fallacy endures

Anthony Browne, writing the main feature article in this week’s Spectator, says policymakers have underestimated, or quite possibly fibbed, about the scale of immigration into the United Kingdom from Eastern Europe. I do not want to get into all the cultural arguments that have been aired a lot here in recent months. Suffice to say that Browne makes some good, if slightly alarmist, points about the ability of a small crowded island like Britain to go on taking more and more people, never mind from often very different cultures.

He seems to make the mistake, however, when discussing the impact of immigration on wage rates, of what is known as the “lump of labour fallacy”: the notion that there is a fixed amount of work to be performed in an economy. It seems a bit odd that Browne, who calls himself an economic liberal, should fall prey to this fallacy. After all, as surely the late economist Julian L. Simon pointed out, every additional person is not just another mouth to be fed, but another brain and pair of hands to create wealth.

Samizdata quote for the day

“You can’t fight in here – this is the War Room!”
– Peter Sellers, playing the President of the United States in Dr Strangelove.

Ink blot madness… or how not to win in Iraq

Sometimes people are shown ink blots in the hope of finding clues as to their mental characteristics. If the ink blots remind you of the ‘wrong’ things then you may have problems.

However, a different form of “ink blot madness” has been doing the rounds for some time: The ink blot strategy.

The ink blot strategy holds that the British won in Malaya (now Malaysia and the independent city state of Singapore) not by killing, capturing or driving out the communists, but by taking bits of Malaya and making life “so good” in these bits that people “did not want to fight the British any more” and then expanding these bits “like ink blots”. By copying this strategy we can all win in Iraq – or so it is claimed.

There are various problems with this idea. Firstly it is not what the British army did in Malaya – whatever some people may say they did. In reality the men went out and fought the enemy (in the jungle or elsewhere). Certainly there were ‘protected villages’ and so on, but Malaya was a fight (it was not a welfare project).

Further the British did not give vast amounts of aid to Malaya. Britain did not have this sort of money to give away in the early 1950’s and it would not have really improved economic life anyway (more on that below). In so far as economic life did improve in Malaya during the “Emergency” British aid was not the real reason.

And, of course, the (mostly ethnic Chinese) communists in Malays were not fighting for “better socio-economic conditions” anyway – they were fighting for communism (hint, that is why they were called ‘communists’). Try asking someone who knows something about Vietnam how all the welfare statism there did not make the VC or NVA vanish (nor was ‘support’ for them among civilians based upon poor social or economic conditions, such support was based on terror – you helped the communists or you and your family would be killed)

How can someone be so plain daft as to suppose that the reason someone becomes a suicide bomber in Iraq (whether they are from Iraq or from outside) is because they turned on the light one day and it did not go on. “Oh if only the electricity and the water supply worked better, then I would not strap a lot of explosives to myself and go blow up a bus full of school children”.

Also physics teaches us that it is less difficult to destroy that to create. The terrorists left undisturbed (under the ink blot strategy) in ‘their’ bits of Iraq will find it less difficult to come in and blow things up in ‘ink blot land’ than the U.S. Army (or anyone else) will find it to build nice services.

The ink blots will not ‘spread, they will shrink. Going on the defensive is sign that one has no real will to win – and would mean that soldiers being killed would be dying for nothing (as the poltical choice to give up had already been made – sound familar?).

Then there is the assumption that government can make the lives of people Iraq “so good they will not fight”, it is not just that the terrorists are fighting because they would like nicer ‘public services’ (which is absurd), but the whole idea that the government can make so many millions of people have such happy lives.

One does not have to a libertarian to see the absurdity of this idea. The government can not (for example) make the lives of Compton in greater Los Angeles. “So good they will not want to fight” (after so many decades of welfare schemes and ‘urban renewal’ schemes) – so how is going to that in Iraq?

Whatever one thinks of the Iraq war, the ‘ink blot strategy’ is stupid. And whoever the military officers and politicans who are behind may be, it is time they shut up. If the war is justified then fighting should continue (i.e. the enemy, especially the leadership, should be hunted down and killed or caputured), and if the war is not justified then the troops should come home.

But there is no ‘socio-economic road’ to victory.

Surveillance by Oyster Card

I have been in the habit of buying zone 1 (i.e. very central London) tube (i.e. London Underground railway) tickets, in clutches of ten, for a reduced price, compared to what such tickets would cost if you bought them one at a time. I tried again, a few days ago, but it seems that as of January 1st 2006, the only way to get cheaper tube travel is to buy an Oyster Card. Oh no, please no, I said, you’ll make me fill in a ludicrously complicated form. No, they said, just buy an Oyster Card. What just buy it? No name, no address, no grandmother’s maiden name. Yes, just buy it, and put some money on it. Okay then.

A day or two ago, I was out and about, and had forgotten how much money I had left on my Oyster Card, and saw a machine which looked as if it might tell me, if I put my Oyster Card on the sign, like the one you use when you are passing through a ticket barrier. It duly told me how much cash I had left, and it also gave me the option of learning about my ‘card usage’. I pressed that. And this is what I got (click to get it bigger):


The message is loud and clear. We know where you have been, and when, and we want you to know it. Because, combine all that with surveillance camera info, and they can tell at once who you are.

The times we now live in.

How long before not wanting to buy an Oyster Card is itself regarded as cause for suspicion?

Happy Birthday, Herr Mozart

Big selection of essays, some long, some short, about the great composer who was born on this day 250 years ago. Even if you care little for the rather overblown commemorations in Saltzburg and the associated commercial circus, it is hard not to join in the Mozart mania if you are a music fan, as I am.

I particularly enjoyed this essay by Terry Teachout. He asks the question to which there is probably no easy answer: how did such a man churn out such a fantastic and enduring collection of music?

Out of balance, there is also a rather sour piece by Norman Lebrecht . He obviously feels the need to break wind at the party, so to speak.

He was a provider of easy listening, a progenitor of Muzak”

Oh, what a magnificent put-down! After all, great music is supposed to be difficult, not easily understood by the great unwashed (sarcasm alert). But why should ‘easy-listening’ music be inferior to the supposedly hard-listening sort? He also argues that Mozart was not an innovator in the way that J.S. Bach was. Now Bach was a genius, but I am not aware that originality – assuming we take Lebrecht’s argument at its face value – is always the virtue that it is cracked up to be.

Anyway, I think that attempts to define some kind of objective judgement on music is fraught with difficulty, but I do know in my own heart that the Austrian composer has the capacity to speak to me as he does to millions of people, and I rather suspect that is likely to remain the case as long as music is played.

Quick quiz: which of Mozart’s pieces of music do you like the best?

Samizdata quote of the day

[W]hen we read our newspapers or turn on our TV screens, what we see and hear might well have been “researched” by searching for dirt on the internet. Of course, the mainstream media will never admit it; the pretence that they are above such things is too important to them. They rely on the impression that their reporters are out in the field, fearlessly digging for details on the major issues of the day, not sat in an air-conditioned office with a cup of coffee and an open Google window. But it’s the truth, and for the sake of their own reputations, it might now be time for them to start admitting that they read the blogs just like the rest of us.

Rob Knight writing at Liberal Review about blog and media reportage of recent Lib Dem scandals

Reflections on an American businessman abroad

The other night I enjoyed a pleasant meal with a business contact, who works in the property industry and for a large U.S. company. He was talking to a group of people and struck me as a thoroughly charming fellow: articulate, funny, interested in other people, highly intelligent. And then he said something that slightly vexed me in that he started to go on and on about how we must be so appalled by this nutcase rightwinger in the White House, how most Americans were insular and dumb, yadda-yadda. It was so obviously an attempt to deflect what anti-American prejudices potentially might have existed by getting in the blow first. He was, then, slightly surprised me when I said over a drink later that I did not like the way that Americans felt the need to abase themselves this way, or denigrate their home country, or its people. In fact, I told him that, much that I disagreed with many of Bush’s policies, such as his fiscal profiligacy and Big Government leanings, I liked the United States a great deal, not least much of its culture, its vitality and the niceness of most Americans.

So a gentle tip for American travellers from this Brit: don’t slag off your own country when abroad. The locals will see through it and despise you for it. Be proud of what you are as an individual living in Jefferson’s Republic, which for all its faults is the greatest free nation on the planet, and likely to be so for a while to come.

Samizdata quote of the day

Once upon a time I would have felt awkward about quoting Mark Thomas’s New Statesman column with approval, but we live in interesting times:

In Parliament Square recently, a banner reading “Parliament Square belongs to the people” was deemed a statement of fact and therefore not a protest. Barbara Tucker’s banner, on the other hand, which declared “I am not the serious organised criminal”, was deemed a protest and Tucker faces trial in February. Who knows, had she used the words “I am a flippant chaotic law-abider” the banner may have been legal. In August police arrested Mark Barrett for the crime of having a picnic in Parliament Square. Two weeks later five others were arrested in possession of cakes iced with the slogans such as “Peace ” and “Love” in pink sugary letters. When the state is arresting people with iced cakes, it really is time either to change the law or for ministers to start incorporating khaki uniforms into their daywear.

[If I had a picture of the ever-changing parliamentary fortifications, I would insert it here. But I don’t. And, as Brian found at the dca not so long ago, it would probably be illegal.]

Education, education, education

We have had over thirty years of comprehensives and eight years of Blair’s “education, education, education”. The result? According to The Guardian:

New research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and conducted by Michael Shayer, professor of applied psychology at King’s College, University of London, concludes that 11- and 12-year-old children in year 7 are “now on average between two and three years behind where they were 15 years ago”, in terms of cognitive and conceptual development.

“It’s a staggering result,” admits Shayer, whose findings will be published next year in the British Journal of Educational Psychology. “Before the project started, I rather expected to find that children had improved developmentally. This would have been in line with the Flynn effect on intelligence tests, which shows that children’s IQ levels improve at such a steady rate that the norm of 100 has to be recalibrated every 15 years or so. But the figures just don’t lie. We had a sample of over 10,000 children and the results have been checked, rechecked and peer reviewed.”


Samizdata quote of the day

Understanding politicians and what they are likely to do is much easier once you realise that almost everyone in politics (even the ‘nice guys’ who wear sensible cardigans and remind you of Wallace and Gromit) have more in common psychologically and morally with your typical member of a street gang than with most of the people who actually vote for them

Perry de Havilland

[by request]

Sir John Cowperthwaite (1915-2006)

Which British individual has done the most good for the world during the last half century or more since the Second World War? I nominate Sir John Cowperthwaite, Financial Secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971, who died last Saturday.

By applying laissez faire ideology to Hong Kong with greater inflexibility than anyone else was at that time even attempting, anywhere, he became, in Patrick Crozier’s words, the father of Hong Kong’s economic boom.

And that, if you think about it, makes Cowperthwaite the grandfather of the Chinese economic boom.

Without the shining example of Hong Kong, and the economically benign influence that Hong Kong has for a long time now had on nearby places still governed by Beijing, who knows what economic – and political – state China would be in now?

Cowperthwaite was criticised during his time in office for not taxing the people of Hong Kong more, and for ignoring, in particular, education. But has there ever been a more stupendous exercise in business education and everything-else-you-can-think-of education than Hong Kong? Hong Kong has been a University of How To Do It for millions upon millions of Chinese, Chinese who are now struggling to turn China itself from a suicidal and murderous world threat into a creative contributor to the world. The productive and trading templates now being followed in China were mostly devised in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong still provides a huge connection between China and the rest of the world.

So, there is at least a decent chance that China will emerge onto the world stage not as a belligerent superpower in the Soviet mold, but as a creative superpower more like nineteenth century Britain or nineteenth century USA.

Of course China still faces severe problems, as has been well explained here. It could all, and quite soon, go horribly wrong. China’s creatively earned wealth and strength might yet – following some kind of economic melt-down – be cashed in to pay for the means to make only mischief on a huge scale.

But China’s economic strength is not a total illusion, any more (well, maybe a bit more) than the USA’s economic strength was wholly illusory in the late 1920s. (The worry about that comparison being that the USA proved that it could be the engine of world economic growth only after a huge depression and a huge world war.) And if, in a hundred years time, historians are able to look back on a century of (mostly) Chinese creativity and progress rather than of Chinese chaos and ghastliness, Sir John Cowperthwaite will arguably deserve more credit for that happy outcome than any other single individual.

The nightmare always was that the Chinese people would feel that they had to fight and to destroy to get the world’s respect. Cowperthwaite’s Hong Kong showed the Chinese people that they were capable of unleashing a better and more creative way to be respected, a way that the whole world is already benefiting from.

Patrick Crozier, to whom thanks for the link, picks out this particularly choice quote from the Telegraph obituary of the great man:

As for the paucity of economic statistics for the colony, Cowperthwaite explained that he resisted requests to provide any, lest they be used as ammunition by those who wanted more government intervention.

The state is not your friend. The less it knows, the better.

Another year…

Police powers last changed significantly at the turn of the year when the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act came into effect, along with a new ‘Code of Practice’–delegated legislation in effect–under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

That’s almost seven weeks ago, so obviously it is time to add to them. Enter the government today with yet another new police bill, the Police and Justice Bill empowering Community Support Officers in some interesting new ways.

Let’s not forget meanwhile the gentle, undisturbed, unnoted, progress of the Powers of Entry Bill which will create a common (low) standard for search and seizure warrants to be issued to officials of all kinds in relation to their functions under around 200 Acts, ranging from adoption to zoo licensing. (And including some long-forgotten items such as the “horror comics” legislation of the 1950s.)